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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.


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The northern end of the South Island is a bold, cliffed coast facing the Tasman Sea; the northernmost point is called Cape Farewell. The cape and cliffs are cut in late Cretaceous quartz sandstones forming part of a coal-measure sequence from which coal is mined at Puponga, 2 miles to the south-east. From Abel Head, a mile east of Puponga, a long curving sandspit – Farewell Spit – extends eastwards for 15 miles, partly enclosing the sheltered waters of Golden Bay. Farewell Spit is formed entirely from quartz sands, derived from the erosion of granites and other rocks on the west coast and transported northward by coastal drift. The spit is about half a mile wide and comprises shifting sand dunes up to 100 ft high. Sand and mud flats up to 4 miles in width are laid bare at low tide on the south side. Both Cape Farewell and Farewell Spit were discovered by Abel Tasman in 1642 and named by Captain Cook when he left New Zealand in 1770.

In early European times the sand dunes were partly covered in grass and forest, and sheep and cattle were grazed. Repeated burning and overstocking have led to the loss of most of the vegetation; consequently the sand dunes are now active in most areas, apart from those with patches of scrub, marram grass, and lupins. The only habitation is the lighthouse at the end of the spit, where a small amount of reafforestation has been carried out. The lighthouse is accessible at low water and between tides, when four-wheel-drive vehicles may proceed along the hard sand on the north side of the spit.

by George William Grindley, M.SC., New Zealand Geological Survey, Lower Hutt.


George William Grindley, M.SC., New Zealand Geological Survey, Lower Hutt.